Heston Blumenthal's makeover of the Little Chef was the subject of a Channel 4 series
A Little Chef restaurant has become the first to get into The Good Food Guide, after a makeover by TV chef Heston Blumenthal. BBC reporter Stephen Chittenden went for breakfast.
"This is not just any old Little Chef," says the 2010 edition of the Good Food Guide.
"This is a Heston Blumenthal Little Chef."
The restaurant at Popham on the A303 in Hampshire certainly did something for the guide's editor Elizabeth Carter.
She visited four times before putting it the book and awarding it two out of 10, which seems on the low side, but apparently means the cooking is pretty decent.
She said: "The minute I walked in I knew it belonged in the guide."
From outside it is the same old boring brick block in a car park but the interior suggests the days of curly fried bread and rubbery sausages are over.
Gone are the sachets of brown sauce that would squirt your shirt - replaced by bottles.
Cooks shout "service" from the kitchen just like they do in restaurants on television. Indeed, this one's makeover featured on TV, in Big Chef takes on Little Chef.
That theme reoccurs in the lavatories, each with its own Big Flush, Little Flush feature.
Manager Caroline Wright applied for the job after seeing the programme.
"I was really happy even to be considered for the Guide," she says.
"We'll need to wait and see what my bonus is for getting in."
Under seagulls painted on the ceiling, a trendy breakfast bar runs the length of the room.
Here, west-bound strangers meet - whether they like it or not - to eat bacon and discuss just how much rain to expect in Devon.
Anthony Frankland is heading for a weekend's camping in Cornwall with 14-year-old son Jack and his friend Jack Dennison.
He says: "The food is similar to old menus but done well rather than inconsistently as previously. The tea was always good, and still is."
'Doing basics well'
Son Jack agrees: "I've never come to a Little Chef before. I'd come again, but then I like most food anyway."
Peter Baxter has dropped in on the way to a day's fishing nearby. A veteran of other Little Chefs in the pre-Blumenthal days, he was pleasantly surprised.
"They just used to get the basics wrong; dirty cutlery, bad bacon or eggs. And the people on the hotplate were never the most attractive bunch but now it's actually a pleasant environment. They're just doing the basics well," he says.
By 8am, the place is heaving. Everyone seems happy with the food, though a few grumble about missing drinks.
But not all the changes are popular. Jelly beans have replaced the traditional free lollipops at the cash till.
"Heston didn't like them," says one staff member, before confiding: "It's a shame. I loved the lollies."